Christmas is indeed the busiest time of the year, especially for city businesses.
During the festive season, Georgetown is always abuzz with traffic and commuters scurrying over sidewalks and in stores searching for that new carpet, paint or item which will help enhance their homes for the holidays.
Since it is practically the largest commercial street in the city, a visit to Regent Street is a must for consumers looking for items to tick off their holiday shopping lists.
Over the past five years, the area that was once a prime location for several popular local businesses has changed considerably. The presence of Chinese investors continues to transform the face of Regent Street.
When the first set of Chinese stores opened their doors along Regent Street, local consumers were thrilled as they offered a wide array of cheap items. In a few short years, almost every store on Regent Street has been taken over by Chinese. The experience has left a bitter- sweet taste in the mouth of Guyanese.
While the expansion of Chinese stores has been welcomed by most consumers looking for a bargain, it is evident that the influx of the Chinese continues to negatively impact local businesses.
Amidst the challenges, many local businesses have closed their doors but there are a few local Regent Street businesses which have found a way to reinvent themselves to keep offering their services to the Guyanese populace.
CHINATOWN IN G/T
As is customary at this time of year, Regent Street was crowded. Shoppers and visitors were looking to purchase one item or another in time for the holiday season.
While most appeared preoccupied with their shopping, quite a few were willing to share their thoughts on the topic.
“Chiney selling everything now; from rope to soap.” one commuter commented. “With the number of Chinese stores they got in here, I think the Government should rename Regent Street, Chinatown,” he added.
“One store even sold liquor. “
A walk along Regent Street will provide encounters with several groups of Cubans and Brazilians conversing in their own language and carrying oversized bags. They would drop in almost each store that they see.
It is no secret that the Chinese are offering everything that the local businesses have but at a cheaper price, and the visitors seem to take full advantage of it.
Sidewalk vendors commented, “The Cubans and Brazilians come here every day. They only buy from the Chinese stores. They like shop in bulk every day. The things cheap, so they does probably buying to sell back.”
They pointed out that some Chinese operated stores even have Portuguese and Spanish names.
“Amigo Loja Wholesale and Retail, the sign reads, but when you enter the store, you soon realise it is operated by Chinese.
Maybe it’s a deliberate façade to lure the foreigners or perhaps just another way to further appeal to the Brazilian/Cuban customer base.
Julia, a snackette owner explained that it is the foreigners that support the Chinese the most.
“Locals done know what they getting at the chiney; things selling cheap but of course there a catch; the quality is not always the best. “So you will find them buying one thing at a time. Is them Cubans and so that does buy.”
Julia has been operating her snackette on Regent Street for the past decade. She has witnessed the closing down of many city stores.
“Some people just sell out and move on but some of them just rent out the stores to the Chinese,” she said adding that it is not easy for local businesses to compete with the Chinese.
STILL IN BUSINESS
Amidst the Chinese takeover, Household Plus, Bhena’s Footwear, Footstep’s Mega Centre and Stores, Phagoo’s Variety Store, Fon-Roje and Beepat’s Variety stores remain the face of local business on Regent Street.
A number of local entrepreneurs have found new ways to reinvent themselves to stay in business.
Fon -Roje‘s proprietor, Charles Mc Watt, is one such person.
His daughter, Roje, explained that her dad continues to find ways to keep shoppers interested in their products.
“What my Dad does is look for really nice quality items at a low price, so unlike some other businesses we offer quality items cheaper. They look expensive but they are actually very affordable.
“For instance there are certain brands in handbags like Bosalina and Giovanna
which the Cubans and Brazilian like so we bring those in to sell.”
“We also allow persons to pay down on items and collect after they have made their final payments,”
Some local businesses have given up altogether but we continue to offer quality items to our customers at a price that cannot be beat.” She said of the business located at Robb and Cummings Streets, Georgetown.
Nearby, Jennifer, the owner of a cozy gift shop, explained the plight of local entrepreneurs.
“I think the government should really look into this in the New Year because it is unfair competition for Chinese to get duty free concession and tax break through the various avenues and Guyanese have to pay the taxes and to top it off they are putting us out of business.”
“They need to pay their fair share of taxes,” she added.
A short distance from Jennifer’s gift shop, another local business is located. The owner noted that his secret to staying in business is keeping a positive attitude.
“There is really nothing we can do about the Chinese right now; I guess they have an edge over us because they have the Chinese Association and other ways of importing items with the various tax breaks but what has kept me in business is a positive attitude and a strong customer base.
“With excellent service, quality products and affordable price our businesses are bound to survive”
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